Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Review: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure

A wonderful friend, B, who works at a bookstore in NH sent me this ARC. I got it yesterday, and just now finished it, in about 24 hours. I started reading it within an hour of it arriving at my door! I have mentioned before how much I adore the Little House books, how my youngest sister is named Laura, because we were reading the books when she was born and thought that was the best name in the world. I reread the books (at least the last 4) nearly every year, last year rereading the first 4 for the first time in many years. This year, a goal of mine is to reread Farmer Boy which I don't think I've reread since I hit double-digits. I've read the biography Laura by Donald Zochert more than once, I own the Little House Cookbook, and also Little House in the Ozarks (haven't read all of it but have read a handful of selections), and The Little House Sampler. I read one of the one-off series, I think the first book in the Rose series (or possibly it was in the Caroline series, I don't remember.) I've read Young Pioneers by Rose Wilder Lane. I thought I was pretty much a Laura Ingalls savant. I am not.

Wendy McClure is a big fan. But she's gone on beyond me! She buys a churn and makes butter! And even better, as this new memoir details, she goes to visit all the Ingalls-Wilder sites across the U.S., which is something I've been wanting to do for more than 10 years. I came within 50 miles of the Wilder farm in upstate New York but didn't visit it. I am so kicking myself (if you have any idea where on the map this is, you'll see it's highly unlikely I'll ever get that close again without a specific trip to the middle of nowhere.)

Like me, Wendy loved Laura. She identified with Laura in her explorations, her enthusiasm, her bubbly personality and her loyalty. She wanted to be friends with Laura. She wanted a brindle bulldog and a sunbonnet. After her mother dies, Ms. McClure and her boyfriend decide to start their touring. Luckily they are in Chicago, so not terribly far from most of the sites, so it's pretty reasonable. They start in Pepin, Wisconsin, in The Big Woods, and next to Mansfield, Missouri. All the locations have tours, historical markers, gift shops, and so on. Naturally there is a lot of mixture between the original novels and the 1970s TV show which went wildly off-course in my opinion. I'm not sure I've ever seen the pilot which does sound much closer to the books, but no episode I ever watched bore any resemblance to my beloved books, aside from setting and character names. But I shouldn't disparage the TV show, as it brought millions of new readers to Mrs. Wilder's beloved books.

Ms. McClure goes into her journey with a lot of optimism and she finds that she is looking for home, for Ma. Nothing is terribly disappointing aside from the realization that she isn't Laura Ingalls, and is never going to be. Nostalgia, I'm sure, is coloring my opinion of this memoir, but I found it just marvelous. It made me terribly jealous, and even more determined to see a Ingalls site sooner rather than later. For anyone who grew up adoring the Little House books, wanting to be Laura's friend, this book will prove a must-read. I loved every minute I spent with Ms. McClure and I want a hay-stick of my very own.

I was given this book as a gift from a friend who did receive it from the publisher.


Caroline Starr Rose said...

I am in LOVE. Must get this!

Booksnyc said...

I loved the entire Little House series as a child -I think I would enjoy reading about McClure's journey!